Heidi Blom makes and donates masks for the Cambridge Memorial Hospital. ART SUBMISSION BY HEIDI BLOM

Preserving Our Pandemic History

When someone mentions the year 2020 in the future, we will likely all have the same thing in mind: unprecedented times. People in the future may be interested in researching this period of history and seeing what people in our region were experiencing. 

Within KW, there have been several initiatives to collect information, artwork and artifacts related to the pandemic and preserve them. Region of Waterloo Museums, Region of Waterloo Archives and Region of Waterloo Library have come together on these projects. 

“One of the first things that happened when the pandemic started is that everyone was comparing it to the Spanish Flu,” said Stacey McLennan, the collections curator and registrar for the Region of Waterloo Museums.

McLellan said there is almost nothing in their collections regarding the historic pandemic of 1918.

“As a historian, I kept thinking in my mind [that] we can’t let this pandemic pass us by and not record things for the future.”

The Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum has started a program called Help Us Make History, where local residents can submit something that represents their experiences during the pandemic, including written accounts, photos or video/audio files. For example, the museum has had many people offer to donate their journals once they are finished with them. 

The museum has received approximately 150 submissions at this point. Contributors have ranged from children to the elderly.

“[With kids] their viewpoint is very to the point and very honest. ‘It sucks’ is a very common phrase coming from kids,” McLennan said, adding that it is nice to include the perspective of children when documenting this time.

“A lot of the time I don’t think we actually look at kids’ thoughts and feelings in the same way we would adults when we’re looking at preserving things for the future,” McLennan said. 

Before the pandemic, McDougall Cottage held a yearly Paint the Grand Exhibit and Silent Auction, where local artists would paint along the Grand River. The paintings would be sold at an auction and proceeds would go towards the museum’s operations. 

Since McDougall Cottage was not able to hold the outdoor painting event, they moved it online and had artists submit work that expressed their feelings about our current times. The new exhibit The View From Here: An Artist’s Perspective on COVID-19, included paintings, watercolours, photographs and more. 

“People are very willing to share and are very honest in their submissions. Sometimes the hurt that they’re feeling, especially if it’s a submission about someone who’s passed away, really comes through in what they’ve written,” McLennan said.

The artifacts, photos and artwork from Help Us Make History and The View From Here can be found on The Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum and the McDougall Cottage websites, respectively. 

McLennan said the project has had a positive impact on residents in the region as well.

“I think it has been serving as a bit of an outlet for the community as well, which is a really nice benefit, and not something which we had initially thought of.”